Andrew Rea's recipe for success is one part film, one part food, and a whole lot of hustle. The YouTube cooking personality has made a career out of demonstrating recipes from movies and TV shows like Bubba's Shrimp from "Forrest Gump."
His YouTube channel, Binging with Babish, has over 5 million subscribers. Some episodes get as many as 13 million views.
Rea, who recently published his first cookbook, "Binging with Babish: 100 Recipes Recreated from Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows," offers tips for saving money on food and for turning a creative outlet into a full-time gig. He also shares a fast, cheap, and easy pasta recipe inspired by a scene in the movie "Chef" with Jon Favreau and Scarlett Johansson, which costs less than $2 a serving: "It's a decadent meal that will fill you up, and it's very inexpensive, and easy to make."
In 2016, Rea was in a rut after a discouraging experience working in film production. But "I pulled myself out of it," he says. "I went to therapy and got the medication I needed and realized, 'OK, I need to find a creative outlet. I need to start making things again.'" He transformed his Harlem, New York, kitchen into a cooking show set.
While planning his first cooking video in 2015, an episode of "Parks and Recreation" featuring a burger cook-off was playing on TV. Rea thought to himself: "Hmm, I wonder what would that actually taste like." He recreated the dish and was delighted to find that the concept, cooking dishes seen in movies or on TV, was an instant hit.
From there, Rea decided he would invest 10 to 15 hours a week in his passion project, despite working full time as a visual effects artist. Inspired by the character of Oliver Babish on the NBC show "The West Wing," Rea called the YouTube series "Binging with Babish."
By July 2017, he was earning enough money from "Binging with Babish" to quit his day job.
On his way to YouTube stardom, Rea learned a crucial lesson: "You shouldn't let mistakes discourage you. It's hard not to let [them] discourage you, in or out of the kitchen, but either way you should try and find ways to learn and grow from your mistakes."
While Rea was investing time and money in "Binging with Babish," he discovered how helpful it was to meal prep on Sundays. "It's an easy way to make sure you've got all of your meals lined up and you're not exceeding your budget," he says.
Rea learned which foods were best to make in advance, and which ones didn't keep well. "Chicken has a tendency to start turning metallic tasting after being in the fridge for a few days," he says. "Salmon same kind of deal. It will start tasting fishy."
Rea recommends making turkey meatloaf. In addition to being long-lasting, it's versatile and inexpensive: "There are some fun things you can do with it. You can fry it up and make yourself a meatloaf sandwich. You can use it to make chilaquiles. You can chop it up and use it in eggs, or a stir fry."
Making and freezing sauce is also a great way to expand your options and stretch your budget, he adds: "Romesco sauce is a great way to go. It's a really flavorful, thick, spreadable sauce that works with any number of proteins. ... It's a very versatile sauce and it keeps very well."
"I'm as much of a carnivore as anyone else in the world, but I'm also a man of science and I know that eating less meat is a good thing, not only for you, but for everybody around you, and the world in general," he says. And when it comes to meat, you get what you pay for. "The average supermarket chicken has probably had a horrible life and not only is it worse for you, it's going to taste worse," he says. Meanwhile, "really good chicken tastes incredible."
That's why protein is one food category he won't scrimp on. If you spend more on quality meat, you'll probably end up throwing away less, which in the end will save you money, Rea says.
Pasta is a great vehicle for leftover meat, too: "Pastas in general are very economical, you can stretch your proteins by cooking them into it," he says, and adding protein makes your pasta dish more filling and nutritious.
If you appreciate the cost incentive of cooking for yourself but don't enjoy the act of cooking, you can develop the confident that "comes with proficiency," says Rea. "There's some universal food truths that once you have a grasp of, it just makes things a lot easier in the kitchen."
The YouTube star suggests developing an understanding of why food behaves the way it does: "That way, when you're making a recipe for a stew, you can look to a recipe for exactly what ingredients you need to put in there, but you'll know the basics: You're going to need to brown the meat ... deglaze the pan ... sweat the onions ... saute the garlic, but only for 30 seconds so it doesn't burn."
Learning to cook is not only a gift you can give yourself, it's a gift you can give to others. Just pay attention to movies featuring food. "Films like 'Big Night,' 'Chef,' 'Babette's Feast,' and 'Ratatouille,'" Rea says: "They're all about the power of food, and the sort of unifying quality that food has and the togetherness that it engenders."